Tag Archives: illinois

FOIA’s Cloudy Future has us Vexed

Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, Matt Wuerker/Politico

“Sunshine Week,” a national campaign dedicated to protecting the public’s right to get information about their government, is now being celebrated. But in Illinois, the outlook for such access is more cloudy than bright.

Last year, a new Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) went into effect, making it easier for people to receive more information about their government in a timely manner.

Now, however, some state lawmakers are trying to undercut the new FOIA law by introducing bills that range from charging money to get public documents to watering down a citizen’s ability to appeal an initial FOIA denial from a government agency.

More than ten bills were introduced this year aimed at reducing FOIA’s reach.

One of the most aggressive attempts to roll back the protections of FOIA is Senate Bill 1645, sponsored by State Sen. Edward Maloney (D-Chicago).

If passed, public entities would have the authority to delay responding, until a time they deem reasonable, to a FOIA request on the grounds that they find it to be “vexatious.”

What is vexatious? Our thesaurus says it is synonymous with annoying, irritating or bothersome. Not one of those are words lawmakers typically associate with constituents who are asserting their rights to access information about their government.

So, if this bill passes, how easy would it be for a FOIA request to be labeled as vexatious? Pretty easy.

Among other things, a request can be labeled vexatious if you have already made five or more FOIA requests in a year and if the public body thinks the request is unduly burdensome.

Then, once it’s labeled vexatious, the bill adds language to existing law that prevents you from appealing that label to any higher legal authority. So once a public body calls a request vexatious, you’re vexatious for good. And you get tracked in a log with all the other vexatious people.

One section of the bill exempts the press from being called vexatious, which means that members of the press have more of a right to public information than constituents.

This is a disturbing possibility.

Public bodies should not be given the authority to deny access to public information for constituents they deem annoying, particularly when there is no higher legal authority that reviews that determination or can overturn it.

SB 1645 is headed to the Senate floor for a vote by the full chamber. The BGA will be working hard to stop this vexing legislation from going any further.

WHAT NOW? You can help by letting your state senator know that you oppose this effort—enter your address here to find your state senator’s information. Put in a call and remind him or her that access to public information is vital, and that sunshine is the best disinfectant.

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Statewide Update—Jan. 19, 2011

  • Chicago Sun-Times—Preckwinkle warns: Cut Cook County budget—or I will, “Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle issued a warning Tuesday to Sheriff Tom Dart and State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez — and anyone else balking at the looming budget cuts: help her swing the budget ax, or she’ll propose the cuts herself.”
  • Daily Herald—RTA awaits word on end of free rides for seniors, “The Regional Transportation Authority has had no word on whether Gov. Pat Quinn will sign a bill to limit free rides for senior citizens, but nevertheless is trying to calculate the revenue boost the agency would get if it does become law.”
  • Daily Herald—Des Plaines may update water meters, resulting in rate hike, “Des Plaines residents may see a rise in water rates starting next year if officials decide to eventually replace the city’s roughly 13,000 analog water meters with a new digital automated meter reading system.”
  • Southtown Star—Kaupas names cousin deputy police chief, “Kaupas, who is the second cousin of Sheriff Paul Kaupas, was hired as the spokesman in December at a salary of $75,000. He said he will perform the duties of both positions, replacing two people who retired, at a net savings to the sheriff’s department.”

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Statewide Update—Jan. 12, 2011

  • State Journal-Register—Senate approves end to death penalty; bill headed to Quinn, “Ten years after Gov. George Ryan imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois and nearly eight years after then-state Sen. Barack Obama sponsored reforms to the system, a bill abolishing capital punishment is headed to Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk.”
  • Southtown Star—Senate President: More work ahead, “Senate President John Cullerton says fixing the state’s finances will require hard work even after lawmakers passed a massive tax increase.”
  • Daily Herald—Lombard ballot to include term limits question, “A ‘yes’ vote will signal voters want the village board to consider a binding referendum to place limits on the number of consecutive terms officials can serve.”
  • Rockford Register Star—Rockford School District presents $51 million cuts plan to public, “The committee came up with proposals to cut $51 million — or 12.6 percent — from the district’s $404 million budget to use for fiscal 2012, which begins July 1. The committee presented its recommendations Tuesday at the School Board meeting.”
  • Bloomington Pantagraph—Normal mayor suggests form-based code optional, “Mayor Chris Koos is suggesting making the controversial form-based code an option — not a requirement — for developers of properties along the Main Street Corridor in Normal.”

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Statewide Update—Jan. 10, 2011

  • Chicago Sun-Times—State tax-hike plan fails to win over Dems, “…House members also moved to scale back the Blagojevich-era program that lets all senior citizens ride for free on public trains and buses.”
  • The Southern—State budget crisis fueled Medicaid reform efforts, “A long-awaited state Medicaid reform proposal, approved Friday in the Illinois Legislature with a House vote of 111-4, was likely fueled by the state’s financial crisis, said a local state lawmaker.”

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Statewide Update—Jan. 7, 2011

  • (AP) State Journal-Register—Public using stronger open government laws, “Attorney General Lisa Madigan said Thursday that the state’s 2009 overhaul of its Freedom of Information and Open Meetings laws brought long-overdue transparency to Illinois government.”
  • Bloomington Pantagraph—On 2nd try, state House votes to abolish death penalty, “Illinois has not enforced the death penalty since then-Gov. George Ryan imposed a moratorium in 2000 after more than a dozen men on death row were exonerated. Just before leaving office in 2003, Ryan commuted the death sentences of 167 inmates to life in prison and pardoned four others.”
  • State Journal-Register—Dems push income, cig tax increases, property tax break, “The plan calls for borrowing $8.75 billion to pay off old bills. And to prevent the state from sinking into a financial abyss again, lawmakers will be asked to approve bills limiting spending increases and imposing a prohibition on new programs for the next three years.”
  • Southtown Star—Daley rips admission fee for Taste of Chicago, “During that the Taste of Chicago will ‘always be free,’ Mayor Richard Daley said Thursday he would oppose a lone bidder’s proposal to charge a $20 admission fee to the lakefront festival.”
  • State Journal-Register, Editorial—Clout carries the day vs. Tenaska, “As things stand now, it appears that the Tenaska clean coal power plant proposed for Taylorville is dead.”

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Chicagoland Transit Agencies on Track for Gov’t-Approved Watchdog

Amid the confusion and chaos of this week’s legislative session in Springfield, the House and Senate passed a groundbreaking bill targeting the fraud, waste and corruption that plagues the Chicago area’s mass transit systems.

The bill’s supporters expect the Governor to approve the measure.

The Better Government Association has been working with Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Lake Forest), good-government advocates and the RTA to craft legislation that creates an independent inspector general for the transit agency that oversees the RTA, Metra, PACE and CTA.

The resulting bill, Senate Bill 3964, was co-sponsored by Sen. Garret and Rep. Jack Franks (D-Woodstock), and creates an independent inspector general to oversee the boards and employees at RTA, Metra, PACE, and CTA.

The inspector general will be housed in the Office of the Executive Inspector General, which already oversees the activities of the Governor’s office and its agencies.

Sen. Garrett has been working on the legislation with leaders at the transit agencies since last spring when news reports emerged detailing how Metra’s Executive Director Phil Pagano gave himself unapproved payouts on future vacation time. The unauthorized payout of $56,000 came on top of his salary of more than $250,000.

Ultimately, questions surrounding Pagano’s actions lead to his suspension. In May 2010, Pagano, 60, was found dead of an apparent suicide.

The BGA is committed to eliminating fraud, waste, and abuse of public resources. This legislation is an important step toward making the Chicago area’s mass transit systems more open and accountable.

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Filed under CTA, Inspector General, Legislative Update, Metra, Pace, RTA

Statewide Update—Dec. 20, 2010


Editor’s Note: The BGA Think Tank’s “Statewide Update” is a daily summary of policy and government news from around the state. Each morning we scan news outlets from Rockford to Belleville and bring you the headlines that influence policy makers across the state.


State Journal Register—School reform shouldn’t be quick process: “The haste with which this committee was formed and last week’s hearings were arranged, coupled with the contentious atmosphere that seems to have built quickly around both, make us wonder if this is the correct path to these measures.”

Bloomington Pantagraph—Airport liquor license decision makes no sense: “The decision was also yet another example of the apparent confusion or differences in interpretation of Bloomington’s liquor code among members of the liquor commission and city council.”

Peoria Journal Star—No more delays fixing All Kids program flaws“Earlier this year, we wrote about a state audit that uncovered some pretty deep and expensive flaws in Illinois’ expanded All Kids health insurance program… After all this time, the lack of action is beyond embarrassing, even in a state that seems capable of goofing up the simplest things.”

Rockford Register Star—Rockford police union provides budget help to city“Rockford residents should thank police union members for giving up pay and benefits in their current contract to help the city close its budget deficit.”

State and Local Budgets

(AP) State Journal-Register—Western Illinois University awaits state payments: “The state of Illinois allocated $53 million for WIU in its current budget, and $37 million of that should already be in the university officials’ hands.”

State Journal-Register—Market study says Springfield resisted the recession“Springfield held up in the Great Recession better than the state of Illinois and the nation — and better than other Illinois communities with the exception of Bloomington-Normal — according to a just-completed analysis of the local economy and demographics.”

Bloomington Pantagraph—Normal to consider capital investment plan“…town staff suggests budgeted money be used for maintenance work, including replacing lighting, fencing and playground equipment.”


Southtown Star—Schools take on residency cheaters“District 135 officials allege that Gutierrez lied about where he lived and that his ex-girlfriend fudged a condominium lease so Gutierrez’s daughter could attend eighth grade at Orland Junior High School during the 2009-10 school year.”


Peoria Journal Star—Committee picks show party bias? “At least two Peoria County Board members are grumbling about committee assignments handed down last week by board chairman Tom O’Neill. Though the board consists of 10 Democrats and eight Republicans, only one of the eight board committees will be chaired by a Republican.”

The Southern—Many vie for public offices in Du Quoin, Pinckneyville:  “Fourteen candidates have filed to run for mayor or commissioner in Pinckneyville, while seven have filed in Du Quoin. The deadline for candidates to file a petition in both towns is 5 p.m. Monday.”

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